Summary

This text discusses a number of 'tactile' and 'palpable' objects by Paul Neagu, Tactile Object, 1969 (T07749), Great Tactile Table, 1970 (T07750), Tactile Object, 1970 (T07751), Palpable Object, 1970-2 (T07755), Palpable Object, 1970-2 (T07756), Tactile Object, 1970-2 (T07757), Tactile Object, 1972 (T07758) and White Tactile Object with Hinges, 1972 (T07759).

Romanian-born Neagu started to make 'tactile' and 'palpable' objects in Bucharest in 1969 and continued to produce them in London, where he moved in 1970, until 1972. His 'tactile objects' were originally intended as suspended objects. Neagu explained in 1986, 'the more the sculpture runs away from the plinth the less are its chances as a special object' (quoted in Narrow Water Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1988, n.p.). The 'palpable objects' are articulated constructions whose hinged or moving parts were originally intended to be physically manipulated by the spectator. They often incorporate boxes or compartments containing various tactile substances, such as fabrics or leather.

Neagu's first exhibition in Great Britain was at the Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh, as part of the 1969 Edinburgh Festival. The exhibition comprised numerous constructed objects, made from various found elements, suspended from the ceiling. The rooms in which the objects were hung were painted black and unlit. Visitors to the gallery experienced the exhibits by feeling their way around the room, sensing the objects individually by touch alone. In this way, Neagu's intention was to create works which elicited a response that went beyond, and largely eliminated, purely visual considerations, focusing instead on form, texture and the associations these qualities provoked. In 1969 the artist produced a 'Palpable Art Manifesto!' In this, he maintained that 'the eye is fatigued, perverted, shallow, its culture is degenerate, degraded and obsolete, seduced by photography, film, television.' Art had therefore to 'give up its purely visual aesthetic if it wants to survive specifically as plastic art, and must move towards an organic and unified aesthetic that will make use of senses that are still fresh, pure.' Neagu then asserted, 'you can take things in better, more completely, with your ten fingers, pores and mucous membranes than with only two eyes', concluding that 'palpable art is a new joy for the "blind", while for the "clear-sighted" it is "the most thoroughly three-dimensional study…"' ('Palpable Art Manifesto! Edinburgh 1969', reprinted in Sunderland Arts Centre exhibition catalogue, 1975, p.6.)

During the early 1970s Neagu also made objects which were similar in construction and intention to his 'tactile objects' but took the form of figures. The Great Tactile Table, first exhibited at the Sigi Krauss Gallery in London in 1971, is one of these figurative tactile objects. These works comprise figures in the form of numerous individual boxes into which spectators could dip their fingers and feel various substances and textures. As well as engaging the viewer's physical involvement, the compartmentalised formal structure of the work also carries metaphorical significance. The sculpture's cellular nature suggests the way the body is a compound of individual parts and different sensations. At the same time it invites connections between the cellular nature of the individual and of larger human structures, notably society, which is similarly composed of discrete parts. The implication is that both the individual and society as a whole are continuously striving for unity and equilibrium.

White Tactile Object with Hinges, 1972, shows another way in which Neagu developed his ideas. The piece comprises a wooden box, painted white and fitted with a lid, hinged along one edge. The interior of the box is subdivided by a number of cardboard matchboxes and the spaces between the matchboxes are filled with newspaper papier maché painted brown. An extension of the 'palpable' and 'tactile' objects, this kind of object operates visually but is intended to evoke tactile sensations through the spectator's experience of looking. The appearance of the object - deliberately encrusted, amorphous and organic-looking - is highly suggestive of its tactile nature.

Further reading:
Paul Neagu, exhibition leaflet, Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh 1969, unpaginated
'Gradually Going Torn-ado!' Paul Neagu and his Generative Art Group, exhibition catalogue, Sunderland Arts Centre 1975
Paul Neagu: Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Narrow Water Gallery, Warrenpoint, Co. Down 1988, unpaginated

Paul Moorhouse
November 2000
Revised by Giorgia Bottinelli
May 2002